Alongside the Covid-19 pandemic, an environmental crisis also emerged. Single-use and disposable personal protective equipment, from masks to medical gowns, were used ubiquitously throughout the two-year period. Of course, these are used regularly by the medical industry, outside of a pandemic situation.
The non-woven materials for PPE products are typically made from polypropylene, a flexible, breathable and versatile thermoplastic that suits the stringent safety standards of the medical industry. However, this material takes approximately 450 years to biodegradle (Nghiem, L. D. et al, 2021) With that in mind, an estimated 4 million tonnes of plastic (Nghiem, L. D. et al, 2021) waste is said to have leaked into the environment from improper PPE disposal worldwide, causing long term negative effects on the environment. This does not yet factor in the negative environmental effects of incineration, or the large quantities of PPE sent to landfills and ending up in oceans.
In response, this project specifically aimed to produce a material that can be used as a sustainable substitute for a range of medical equipment and PPE. The substitute would have to meet two specific criteria simultaneously: (1) be 100% biodegradable; (2) whilst being fully compliant with E.U. regulations for medical products.
“In the end, we have developed biodegradable medical PPE made from a cellulosic-based non-woven material, laminated with a bio-plastic resin which is compliant with standard requirements for medical application,” shares Marina Chahboune, Founder of Closed Loop Fashion, managing the project through local partner, PT Eco Laundry Hijau Indonesia (La Tintoria).
The creation of this bio-based PPE, now labelled GreenMed, required the cooperation of five key project partners across Indonesia to facilitate the different stages of its production.
Before the production of the PPE products itself, the project begins by creating a bio-based fabric. The PPE is made out of a cellulose-based fibre, processed into a foundational spun-lace.
Crucially, the material requires a protective layer. For this, project partner Greenhope created a bio-based film using a certified fair trade cassava-based biodegradable bio ‘plastic’. This was used as the protective laminate fused atop the non-woven fabric, creating sheets of breathable and fully bio-based material.
The bio-based material then gets cut and assembled into standardised PPE products to meet medical industry standards. To achieve this, a separate production line aligned with the compliance requirements of ISO 13485:2016 – the medical industry’s optimal medical device standard – was established with a local garment factory to create a controlled environment, eliminating any potential cross-contamination and/or human contact during the manufacturing steps.
With the manufacturing of the PPE products, specifically medical gowns and hospital bed sheets, key development partner PT Hollit International facilitated the testing of important benchmarks. This included lab testing for EU standards in medical use, such as material performances like fluid, bacterial and anti-microbe penetration , alongside expected characteristics of standard PPE.
The successful outcome of this collaborative R&D project has resulted in the creation of GreenMed, a bio-based and sustainable PPE product that is commercially and practically available for the market, meeting EU standards. The fabric can be used for a range of medical equipment, such as hazmat suits, medical gowns or hospital bedding sheets. Therefore, even with the eventual end of the global pandemic, GreenMed has the potential to improve the sustainability of the entire medical industry through everyday use.
“The garment industry works in a very competitive way, but this project proves that with the right research and collaboration between stakeholders you can create sustainable alternatives to current practices and generate large-scale positive impact,” says Marina Chahboune.
Video showcasing the processes and partners of the GreenMed Project:
The development of GreenMed was conducted as part of a Public-Private-Partnership project “COVID-19 response project: Improving the sustainability of personal protective equipment at safe workplaces in the textile industry“, co-financed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) from public funds of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and has been conceptualised and implemented by expert consultants of Closed Loop Fashion.
• Nghiem, L. D., Iqbal, H. M., & Zdarta, J. (2021). The shadow pandemic of single use personal protective equipment plastic waste: A blue print for suppression and eradication. Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering. doi.org/10.1016/j.cscee.2021.100125